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This is a guest post by Sidney Angelos.

Traditionally, if a customer had some sort of challenge they would expect to call a toll-free number and be connected with a trained professional in the hire of the business. This person, hopefully, had the knowledge, skills and authority to figure out the nature of the caller’s challenge and move that customer towards a satisfactory solution. The Internet, social media communities, instant messaging, mobile smart phones and various other advances in the realm of technology are providing companies with new and exciting tools for bettering their help desk operations.

While the focus of this article is clearly on the use of technology, specifically how the advent of social media communities online are transforming the workplace, make no mistake that the traditional one-to-one telephone support conversations are not going away. Decreasing? Certainly. New technology is helping reduce a company’s time and financial requirements in the areas of customer support. Some people simply are still more comfortable talking to a company representative than attempting to use the computer or a chat program to get the help they need.

But time does march forward, and as newer generations of technology savvy consumers become more familiar with non-traditional means of communications, companies will be required to keep up with the channels their current and prospective customers use.

Setting aside those land lines and toll-free numbers, this article then focuses on a few of the more popular online social media channels and how they might be adapted for use as the company’s primary, or secondary customer support platform.

Twitter is a one to many message broadcasting service which provides its users the ability to send out very short messages (only 140 characters). The destination of those messages, or tweets, are one of two places. Either they simply flow into the general Twitter stream along with millions of other users, or they show up in the message lists of other Twitter members who have chosen to subscribe to or friend the message originator.

As the service has matured, many of the largest subscriber counts now belong to entertainment and sports celebrities, news outlets, and the like. The beauty of how the system works, however is that a user can have as many or as few followers as they are able to obtain. Every time a message is sent out, it appears in all the streams of their followers. Granted, not every follower has their eyeballs on the incoming messages at all times, however, the popularity of the service continues to grow every day.

As such, companies are beginning to get in on these free social tools to listen to and provide feedback to people who might be talking about their business. Once the business sets up its own Twitter account, anyone might directly reference the business with questions, concerns, or even answers to other Twitter members. One of the alluring aspects of using any social media channel is the vast resource represented by the other users of the system.

Facebook is another popular social channel which is seeing application in the arena of the help desk for businesses large and small. While a very effective online marketing tool with its fan pages and advertising opportunities, companies can take advantage of the collective wisdom of the communities on Facebook as well. Messages get posted to the “wall” of the individual or business account and other friends associated with the business can read and respond to the messages, or directly to the company.

The important aspect to consider when using any social media network as an adjunct to ones help desk functionality is consistency. Testing the waters, so to speak, and then abandoning the practice of helping customers via the likes of Twitter of Facebook is likely to generate the ire of many. Not only will those who immediately desire the help of the company, but their friends and followers tend to get in on the act as well. Steady, focused, good intentions will provide positive feedback and multiple low cost branding opportunities as well as happier customers.

This guest post is by Sidney Angelos, a writer for a All Things CRM, a CRM blog which covers CRM trends and social media for customer relationship management.